9/9/19: NONCONFORMING LOTS (AGAIN) TOP TOWN COUNCIL MEETING TOMORROW; PETITION TO DEAD-END HICKORY TRAIL AT HILLCREST DRIVE TO BE PRESENTED; At 5:30 PM in Pitts Center

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Northbound cut-through traffic backs up on Sea Oats Trail near its intersection with Duck Road in the early afternoon today.

Exceptions to the new nonconforming lots ordinance that the Town Council enacted just a year ago will again be the subject of a scheduled public hearing when the Council meets tomorrow for its monthly meeting, 5:30 p.m., in the Pitts Center.

The agenda for tomorrow’s meeting is light. See https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Agendas_2019-09-10.pdf

Besides the public hearing and possible action by the Town Council on Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 18-09PB01, which seeks to amend Town Code sec. 36-132, the Council will hear from homeowner David Watson about a petition signed by Hickory Trail and Red Bay Lane property owners regarding curbing seasonal cut-through traffic and consider how to move forward with hiring a new town manager.

Town Manager Peter Rascoe retired Sept. 1, after nine years as head of the Southern Shores town staff. Wes Haskett, who has been serving as deputy town manager and planning director, has assumed the duties of interim town manager.

Included in the consent agenda business for tomorrow’s meeting is a resolution to designate Mr. Haskett as deputy finance officer. This appears to be a perfunctory action taken pursuant to N.C. statute to ensure that if Finance Officer Bonnie Swain is not available, Mr. Haskett has the power and duty to serve in her absence.

You may view tomorrow’s meeting packet here: https://www.southernshores-nc.gov/wp-content/uploads/minutes-agendas-newsletters/Meeting-Packet_2019-09-10.pdf

Most of the pages of the 62-page packet are devoted to Mr. Watson’s petition, as a copy of the form that each property owner signed is appended. (Full disclosure: I was a signee.) The petition reads:

“In an effort to restore Hickory Trail and Red Bay Lane to their original purpose and design as streets for ingress and egress; We the owners of said homes and lots along Hickory Trail and Red Bay Lane ask that the Town of Southern Shores dead end Hickory Trail at the Hickory and Hillcrest intersection allowing only pedestrian, bicycles, etc., to pass on to said intersection, thus reducing unnecessary and unwanted automobile traffic on this side street.”

Also scheduled on the meeting agenda is a report by Mike Fletcher, chairman of the Exploratory Committee for Potential Branch Library. In light of Hurricane Dorian, the police and fire chiefs’ monthly reports, prepared for August, are likely to include information about how the town fared in recent days, as well.

NONCONFORMING LOTS

As you may recall, the last time ZTA 18-09PB01 was set for public hearing (in July), the Town Council unanimously tabled it until December. A month later, the Council unanimously reversed course and scheduled ZTA 18-09PB01 for hearing in September.

See The Beacon’s blogs of 7/17/19 and 7/18/19 for background.

At the Town Council’s Aug. 6 meeting, Councilman Jim Conners made a motion to “reschedule a public hearing and Council discussion and /or action at the regular meeting of September 10, 2019 to consider the Planning Board recommendation of ZTA 18-09PB01” and asked Town Attorney Ben Gallop to “prepare for Council discussion, a separate ordinance that addresses only the tear down of a structure located on two or more non-conforming parcels of land and then building two or more structures on non-conforming lots.”

According to Mr. Conners, as The Beacon reported 8/7/19, his motion envisioned: 1) the passage of ZTA 18-09PB01 “to give immediate relief” to unfairly disadvantaged property owners; and 2) the “repeal and enactment of an ordinance that addresses the limited situation” of tearing down a structure that is situated on two adjacent nonconforming lots and selling off the two lots for separate development.

Included in the meeting packet on pages 21-23 is a new ordinance currently designated ZTA 19-X that proposes to address the limited situation that Mr. Conners described. The language of ZTA 19-X is language that Mr. Gallop drafted last year, but the Town Planning Board did not endorse.

As longtime readers know, The Beacon has been reporting on the nonconforming lots issue—some might call it a dilemma—since spring of 2018 when The Beacon debuted. On Sept. 5, 2018, the Town Council revised the then-existing Town Code sec. 36-132, titled “Regulation of Structures and Uses Nonconforming,” by enacting language that clearly stopped the trend of property owners selling off developed 100-foot-wide parcels as two 50-foot-wide lots, which could be (and were) separately developed.

This trend arose on the oceanfront and west side of Ocean Boulevard, where the majority of houses were required by custom and restrictive covenant to be built on 100-foot-wide lots, ensuring the low-density-population development for which Southern Shores is noted and acclaimed.

Historically, the developers of the Southern Shores oceanfront sold 100-foot-wide parcels as two 50-foot-wide lots, which were expected to be, and were, combined into one buildable lot. When, during the past few years, old structures built upon these 100-foot-wide parcels began to be razed and two structures began to appear in their place, as property owners sold off 50-foot-wide lots, the Town Council stepped in to regulate.

Upon passing the replacement ordinance for sec. 36-132 last September, the Town Council tasked the Town Planning Board with assessing the fairness of imposing the now clearly delineated requirements of lot conformity on individual property owners. ZTA 18-09PB01, which the Planning Board devised and unanimously approved, is written to give relief to known, identifiable property owners.

The Beacon has written extensively about nonconforming lots and the Town’s response to the higher-density-development trend, and we do not believe that the Town Council has yet hit on the proper approach. We believe that the impenetrable and confusing legal language of ZTA 19-X only exacerbates the confusion.

The problem traces back to Town Code enactment by the Town Council of minimum lot dimensions in the various residential districts that failed to take into account how the town was developed. The Council that established the minimum dimensions—some time around 2000, Mr. Gallop has stated—painted with too broad of a stroke.

In the RS-1 single-family residential district, in which the vast majority of us live, the minimum lot size is required to be 20,000 square feet, and the minimum lot width is 100 feet. (Town Code sec. 36-202(d).) Any lot that does not conform to these minimums is considered “nonconforming.”

But here’s the rub: Oceanfront properties may have been sold as 100-foot-wide parcels, but Southern Shores properties sold subsequently were narrower. As local builder and Town Council candidate Matt Neal has pointed out on numerous public occasions, all of the lots in Sea Crest Village are 75 feet wide. Sixty-foot-wide lots were sold on Skyline Road. It is safe to say that the variation in lot size among the different areas of town development is substantial.

The Beacon believes that the Town Council should examine the minimum lot standards established historically in the various areas when they were developed and revise the Town Code to conform with those standards. We urge the Council not to enact more torturous legal language. Change the minimum dimensions within the residential districts to reflect the different prevailing standards in various areas of those districts. It may take more research to do so, but the outcome will be more satisfactory for all property owners.

See you at the meeting tomorrow.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 9/9/19

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